Art Farmer and his twin brother Addison were born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on August 21, 1928, and moved at the age of four to Phoenix, Arizona. On the occasion of a recent celebration of the life and music of Art Farmer held at The Nash in Phoenix, Lynne Mueller and Noal Cohen visited several sites of significance in Farmer’s early life.
The Tanner Chapel AME Church at 20 South 8th Street is one of the reasons the family relocated to Phoenix because the twins’ grandfather, Abner Stewart, assumed the duties of pastor of that congregation in 1932.
After Abner Stewart died, the family moved from the parish house associated with the church to a house at 936 East Washington. Currently there is no house at that address and it is assumed that the neighborhood in which it was located must have undergone urban renewal at some point.
The twins attended Booker T. Washington Elementary School located at 12th Street and East Jefferson (1201 East Jefferson):
The school is now an office building and exhibits the plaque below on the first floor. On the second floor, The Booker T. Washington School Memorial Room was established in 1986 to recreate the history of the black community in Phoenix, when Arizona was a segregated state.
On the sidewalk near the school we found the historical imprint below (WPA = Works Progress Administration) indicating that the sidewalk was constructed in 1936. It is interesting to note that Art and Addison took drawing and painting lessons as part of the WPA educational programs and their grandmother, Mattie Stewart, taught English to African American adults also as part of the WPA program.
The twins began high school at Phoenix Union Colored High School (1926-1943) which was renamed George Washington Carver High School in 1944. It is located at 425 E. Grant Street. Here is an historical photo of the school and one taken on March 15, 2019. Note that the school is now a Museum and Cultural Center.
At the Carver Museum we found this sousaphone which, based on its age, could have been Art Farmer’s first brass instrument.
Art and Addison did not graduate from Carver High School. After their junior year, they went on vacation to Los Angeles (LA) and became so enthralled with the active music scene there that they convinced their mother to let them finish high school in LA. They attended Thomas Jefferson High School for their senior year while living by themselves at the Dunbar Hotel and taking odd jobs to make ends meet. After that, their professional careers began in earnest.
The remains of Art, Addison and their mother, Hazel Stewart Farmer, are buried in adjacent graves in Greenwood Memory Lawn Mortuary and Cemetery in Phoenix. Here are some photos: